- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Bucking the Pentagon’s wishes, a federal commission preserved a major military presence in New England yesterday by keeping open two historic Navy facilities that together provide 12,000 jobs for a defense-dependent economy.

On the first of at least two days of meetings, the independent Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission agreed with proposals to shutter hundreds of small and large facilities in all corners of the country, including major bases such as Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, a naval air station in Georgia and an Army garrison in Michigan.

The recommendations will be sent to President Bush, who can accept it or reject only it in its entirety. Congress also will have a chance to veto the plan, but has not taken that step in four previous rounds of closures.

If ultimately approved, the changes would occur over the next six years.

The commission has yet to take up any Air Force proposals, including the contentious question of whether the service can strip aircraft from about two dozen Air National Guard facilities across the country.

Later this week, the commission will consider that proposal, as well as the one that has caused the most political consternation, the Air Force’s attempt to close Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, home to freshman Sen. John Thune.

The Republican argued during the 2004 campaign that he — not then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat — would be in a better position to save the facility, but it showed up on the Pentagon’s closure list anyway.

In some of its first decisions, the commission voted to keep open several major Army and Navy bases that military planners want to shut down, including the Portsmouth shipyard in Kittery, Maine, and the New London submarine base in Groton, Conn., two of the Navy’s oldest bases.

The survival of the two bases marked big wins for New England congressional delegations and governors.

Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, who urged the commission to save the shipyard in Maine near the New Hampshire border, added: “This is a sweet victory.”

Before voting started, commission Chairman Anthony J. Principi said the task was especially difficult because Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s proposal included more than double the recommendations in the four previous rounds of base closings combined.

To reject a recommendation, the commission had to find that the Pentagon substantially deviated from criteria that focused mainly on the military value of each facility.

Previous commissions — in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 — altered about 15 percent of what the Pentagon proposed in seeking to get rid of bases considered no longer needed. This round also was affected by the post-September 11 threat of terrorism.

The Pentagon proposed closing or consolidating a record 62 major military bases and 775 smaller installations to save $48.8 billion over 20 years, streamline the services and reposition the armed forces.

Since the Pentagon announced its proposal in May, commissioners had voiced concerns about several parts of it, including the estimate of how much money would be saved.

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